Christmas Gala Concert

The Gala Concert at the Maltings in Farnham is a memorable occasion each Christmas that brings together the girls’ choir, the boys’ choir and the main youth choir. When the three join forces, for the first few moments the youngest singers at the front are often visibly startled by the wall of sound behind them! The stage is always brilliantly lit, and thanks to the stage decorations the effect is very festive – although unknown to the audience, the heat from the lights presents a challenge for the singers and there tends to be a casualty or two (expertly gathered up and spirited away by volunteer first-aiders). Things like this demand professionalism from the choirs and they always cope extremely well. Jo Tomlinson, Jo McNally and Patrick Barrett led the singers through a varied programme that showed their range, supported throughout by accompanist Matthew Rickard.

Two soloists opened the concert from the auditorium, getting proceedings off to a traditional, spell-binding start with the first verse of Once in Royal David’s City. When the audience rose to join in with the rest of the carol, the gentleman sitting next to me had to be coaxed to his feet – ‘do I seriously have to sing?!’ – but as the concert went on he found his confidence and relaxed into his new performing role. By the time Jingle Bells came around at the close and everyone was asked to shake their keys in time to the music, he was reluctant to sit down again. His party had come to the concert out of curiosity to see what Farnham Youth Choir was like. His verdict? ‘I think they must do a serious amount of work to achieve all this’, he said. 

Review by Helen Cole


Christmas Words and Music

On a cold winters evening – snow in the air outside – what better than the fabulous sound of the Farnham Youth Choir to warm the spirit.

Inside Farnham’s United Reform Church the candles were glowing and the newly decorated Christmas trees were sparkling gold and russet red. A beautiful setting for the first of the season’s Farnham Youth Choir’s Christmas concerts.

Throughout the concert, meaningful readings were interspersed with wonderful singing. We enjoyed beautiful moments of purity such as the first verse solo of Once in Royal David’s City as well as the more dramatic pieces including Joubert’s Torches and Britten’s This Little Babe. In between we were treated to favourites including the upbeat melody of Rutter’s Star Carol and the accurate, chiming tones of the Carol of the Bells

The Holly and the Ivy showcased the many wonderful individual voices in the FYC choir and the audience carols were topped off by stunning descants – how wonderful to have so many voices soaring up high above those of us watching and singing along.

Jo Tomlinson, FYC’s Musical Director, brought the readings to an end with Dickens’s festive Fezziwig and the lilting King Jesus hath a Garden with its “cymbal, trump and timbal and the tender soothing flute” left us feeling well and truly warmed up for Christmas tide. The evening was nicely rounded off with mulled wine and mince pies for everyone.

Review by Sara Acworth



Junior Choirs Christmas Celebration

Each year the junior choirs in the FYC family give a concert that launches the Christmas season in a uniquely joyful way. Parents and grandparents in the audience sit on their hands to start with but in the end a discreet wave or thumbs-up to their choir-member just can’t be suppressed. Then everything gets underway and there’s so much to be proud of.

Serious music-making came with a generous measure of fun in this year’s Christmas Celebration at the United Reformed Church in Farnham. Scattered through the programme were seasonal readings that were beautifully and confidently delivered by young choir-members. The Girls’ Choir under Jo McNally gave us lots of colours in four contrasting pieces, from the traditional (In the Bleak Midwinter) through to the spiritual (Tiny Little Baby born in Bethlehem) with syncopations, rhythmic clapping and singing in rounds along the way – and a burst of dancing at the end. The Boys’ Choir showed that they could do ‘cheeky’ like no-one else, whether punching the air (‘pow!’) in Super Santa! or calling the reindeer home with a Sami drum (Lapland Joik), guided by their director Patrick Barrett. The Training Choir eased us from autumn into winter with songs that included movement and impressive finger-clicking, director Sarah Burston donning a Christmas jumper along the way. By the time the choirs came together to end with Hava Nashira the audience knew that these young singers had worked hard all year yet still had energy to spare, even if sometimes opening your mouth wide to sing can bring on a yawn that just won’t be stifled. There was nothing sleepy about the heartfelt cheers of thanks for accompanist and organist Matthew Rickard.  

The next few weeks place many demands on singers but these young musicians showed everyone that they are in fantastic shape as they head towards Christmas, and beyond.  

Review by Helen Cole


Farnham Lions celebrates its 50th anniversary in song

There was not a spare seat to be had in St Andrew’s Church, as Farnham Lions hosted Farnham Youth Choir in a concert of sacred and secular music spanning 900 years as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations.

The evening started in magical fashion, with the church in darkness as the choir entered from the rear of the church with a suitably atmospheric performance of O Vitus Sapientiae by the 12th century composer, mystic and philosopher Hildegard of Bingen.

Lions President Andrew Lodge then welcomed everyone, thanking all for their support in this special year for the Farnham club (which coincidentally marks the centenary of Lions Club International). Among the many highlights in 2017 he especially pointed to the ‘Summer Spectacular’, 18 months in the planning, which had raised over £40,000 for four local youth-based charities.

It was then on with the music, as FYC journeyed through the centuries with sacred pieces by Croce, Pergolesi and Mendelssohn. Motets by Maurice Duruflé and Francis Poulenc - complete with typically French crunchy harmonies - represented the 20th century and the first half finished bang-up-to-date with three modern works - David Hamilton’s O Vos Omnes, an FYC favourite, James Whitbourne’s Alleluia Jubilate and the jazzy inflections of The Lord is My Shepherd by Will Todd, perhaps best-known for his Mass in Blue.       

After a short interval, the mood changed again as the choir grabbed the audience by the ears with Lyn Williams’ Festive Alleluia, followed by two other FYC ‘classics’, Michael Neaum’s gentle arrangement of the traditional Scottish ballad, Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go and David Brunner’s infectious Yo le Canto.

Composer Janet Wheeler was in the audience to hear the choir’s sensitive performance of her And Then We Knew Peace, a special commission first performed by FYC at the Farnham Festival in March. In contrast to its comforting, reflective mood, this was followed by the angry, more aggressive tone of A Poison Tree, including body percussion: also written by her for FYC, this was being given its world première at the Lions’ concert. “FYC’s energy, rhythmic precision, wonderfully clear diction and professional presentation were awesome,” she commented. “I really enjoyed the performances of my two pieces, which the choir delivered with supreme musicality in the two very different styles they demand. Congratulations to Joanna and to all.”

The lighter, secular mood of the second half concluded appropriately with three popular songs, including Bob Dylan’s Make You feel My Love, more recently a hit for Adele, and ending with Paloma Faith’s Upside Down, in a really crowd-pleasing arrangement by Michael Higgins. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening however was Ivo Antognini’s Wah bah dah bah doo bee!, a fun piece in which we were encouraged ‘not to listen to the lyrics’ (no surprise) but ‘listen to the music’, which we most certainly did given the choir’s evident relish and infectious enthusiasm in performance.

Not only did the young singers’ voices blend perfectly under conductor Jo Tomlinson’s direction, but there are also outstanding soloists within the choir, as solo performances by Charlotte Gill, Annia Grey, Jessica Miller and Millie Brake throughout the concert showed to great effect.  

Jo was clearly delighted with the performance of her young singers, nearly one quarter of whom joined the choir at the start of term just six weeks ago. It was evident that the choir continues to show a rare ability to get under the skin of an extraordinarily wide range of repertoire and convey the essence of every piece - and their ability to communicate this to the audience just gets better and better.     

FYC Chairman Graham Noakes thanked Farnham Lions and Farnham Institute Charity for sponsoring the concert and outlined some of the plans for the FYC family of choirs over the next three years. In helping achieve this ambitious momentum, he was delighted to announce that David Whelton MBE, a Director of the Three Choirs Festival and until recently Chief Executive and Artistic Director of the Philharmonia Orchestra, had agreed to become FYC’s Honorary President.

In praising the choir for an excellent evening’s entertainment, Farnham Mayor Mike Hodge echoed the audience’s gratitude for Farnham Lion’s unique contribution to town life and wished the organisation every success for the next 50 years!

Review by Graham Noakes

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A Date with a Traction Engine

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A big thank you goes to David Miller who took choir parents Jason and Sally Harris out for a scorching day out on his 1913 traction engine, "Cromwell".  Jason bid for the day out at the FYC fund raising gala dinner last year at Brasserie Blanc in Farnham.  Jason and Sally took their daughters Catherine and Eleanor to share the unique, rather hot and some what dirty experience. At the end of the ride, everyone enjoyed a well earned lunch at the pub in Micheldever!

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Summer Gala Concert 2017


The concert held on 8th July at Farnham Maltings had the usual celebratory feel, bringing all the choirs together on the stage and summing up what has been achieved during the past season. It is always lovely to see singers from age 6-18 performing with joy, directed by their various conductors and all ably accompanied by pianist Matthew Rickard.

The concert opened with a set from the senior FYC choir, directed by Jo Tomlinson, who sang several sacred pieces from the sixteenth century up to the present day, including the dramatic piece To Agni with text taken from the Hindu Rig Veda. The final piece in this first set was a World Premiere of And then we knew Peace by Janet Wheeler, commissioned by FYC.

Next to the stage came the crowd-pleasing Trainers Choir who despite their young ages performed wonderfully, with clear diction, good intonation and smiling faces! Conductor Sarah Burston has them well trained!

After the interval we were treated to songs in English and in French from the Junior Girls Choir, conducted by Jo McNally, followed by songs performed jointly by the Girls and the Junior Boys Choir, directed by Patrick Barrett. Both these choirs had enjoyed the opportunity to perform together this year in a new work, Dies Irae, by Ian Assersohn at Dorking Halls. As a thank-you for their dedication, Ian composed a setting of the words Silver by Walter de la Mare, and this was given a World Premiere performance with the composer present in the audience at the Maltings.

Patrick Barrett then directed the Boys Choir with songs in Congolese and Hebrew, followed by Panis Angelicus, ably assisted by the senior boys from FYC.

Jo Tomlinson conducted a set of lighter pieces from FYC to close the concert, including the quirky and demanding piece Wah Bah Dah Doo Bee! by the Swiss jazz composer Ivo Antognini and a charmingly choreographed version of Paloma Faith’s Upside Down, arranged by Michael Higgins who was present in the audience.

All choirs rose together to perform the final piece Goin’ Up a-Yonder which has been a favourite in the FYC repertoire for some time and brought tears to the eyes of the leavers!

Laura Brown

Sir Jeffrey Tate (1943-2017)

It was especially sad for us to learn this month of the death at the age of 74 of Sir Jeffrey Tate, formerly Farnham Youth Choir’s Honorary President.  A former resident of Farnham and an alumnus of Farnham Grammar School (now Farnham College),  Jeffrey Tate was best known as one of this country’s leading conductors working with many of the world’s leading orchestras, including as Principal Conductor of the Royal Opera House and as Chief Conductor of the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra, a position he held up until his death.

Before deciding on a career in music, he studied Medicine at Cambridge University and then specialised in ophthalmic surgery at St Thomas’ hospital in London.   A talented pianist, it is probably less well known that he was a leading repetiteur, working with, amongst others, Georg Solti, Colin Davis, Pierre Boulez and Maria Callas.

A man of incredible talent, he had to battle against adversity all of his life having been born with spina bifida.  Although spending most of his musical career living abroad, he never forgot Farnham or his friends at FYC, maintaining correspondence with us right up until his death.  Indeed, a chance encounter with FYC’s Chairman in London earlier this year was an opportunity for him to catch-up on news.

France tour proves a complete all-round success

On tour with FYC, by Graham Noakes

Now back on English terra firma, it’s time to reflect on what an amazing six days we have just spent in Paris and the Dordogne.

In a busy but never frenetic programme put together with imagination and flair by current parent Sophie Budd, FYC had the opportunity to perform in four very different church acoustics, from the dramatic spaces of Notre-Dame in Paris to the small but perfectly-formed church of St Vaast in the Dordogne village of Villac.  And with plenty of opportunities in between for sightseeing, ball games and making Easter chicks in a chocolate factory in nearby Terasson (which also happens to be Sophie’s home town), everyone came home tired but extremely happy.

The choir consisted of 38 singers (35 girls, 3 boys) and the adult group comprised Sophie (as tour leader), together with Jo Tomlinson, Matthew Rickard, Sarah Burston, Alison Nicholls, Neil Ferris and Graham Noakes.

After an early start, leaving Farnham at 6.00am, we had a straightforward journey in bright sunshine, catching an earlier ferry and reaching Paris in late afternoon.  ‘Home’ for the first leg of the trip was the FIAP Jean Monet in the southern part of the city.  A cross between a youth hostel and a hotel, the accommodation was ideally designed for young groups such as FYC, including a self-service canteen and a large meeting room (complete with piano) where we could rehearse and chill.

After checking in and some much-needed fresh air and exercise in the nearby Parc Montsouris - with cakemaster Neil doubling as head of games - we returned for supper and then bed.   

Having discovered only the night before that our ‘tourist day’ coincided with the Paris Marathon - and that much of the city centre’s roads would be closed - several ‘Plan Bs’ were hurriedly hatched for the day.  As it turned out, our original ‘Plan A’ went surprisingly smoothly, with traffic flowing freely clockwise on the Paris périphérique taking us to Sacré Coeur without a hitch. (We saw a number of runners as we passed under one of the many bridges spanning the ring road.)

With glorious sunshine showing off the iconic Parisian landmark to perfect advantage,  this offered the ideal opportunity for group photoshoots.  We climbed up to the Basilica to get the spectacular views across the city, but our initial plan to busk near the entrance met with the clear disapproval of an armed soldier - a common (and surprisingly comforting) sight during our stay in the capital - so discretion took over and we sang several flights of steps further down, much to the delight of the many tourists.

After a brief walk through Montmartre, past the Moulin Rouge, we had an excellent lunch in a nearby restaurant and it was then off on a similarly traffic-free coach ride to the Eiffel Tour and boat trip on a Bateau Parisienne.  The day finished back at the hostel with supper and traditional soirée of songs and comic turns by our highly-talented youngsters.  But for the fact that two of our younger choir members unfortunately got stuck in the lift before supper, it would indeed have been just about the perfect day!               

The big day for all us!  Despite a strike on the Metro (in competition with London Underground?) threatening further traffic problems, these did not materialise and we arrived early for our rehearsal.  This gave us the chance to walk around inside Notre-Dame and take in the spectacular scale and grandeur of the cathedral.  It was then down into the bowels of the church to change and warm up, before emerging for our 25-minute concert spanning five centuries of sacred music.

However much Jo and the rest of us had been looking forward to this tour highpoint, nothing had truly prepared us for how special it was going to be.  As in Périgueux and Sarlat later in the week, the vast acoustic would have starkly shown up any imperfections of tuning and ensemble, but FYC rose to occasion magnificently, filling the cathedral with its spine-tinglingly beautiful sound.  To say Jo was happy with the choir’s performance would be a distinct understatement.

Having repeatedly preached to the choir the importance of always staying together, especially in crowded places, I managed to get detached from the group as the choir went back to get changed and so had to join the visiting parents outside to wait for the choir to emerge.  Not surprisingly, they found this highly amusing (and definitely Twitter-worthy!) but it did provide the opportunity to confirm how much they too had found this such a special and memorable event.

Then came the long journey down to the beautifully scenic Dordogne where we were to stay in the CIS (International Residential Centre) in Salignac. We effectively had the centre to ourselves and once again it was ideally-suited to our needs: with separate chalets and a central refectory, it proved a relaxing and well-located start-point for our activities over the next few days.  The staff were extremely accommodating throughout our stay and we certainly were not going to starve, with generous breakfasts, main meals and packed lunches.               

The morning was taken up with sightseeing in Sarlat, one of the prettiest towns in the region: in the afternoon we then had a tour of the internationally-renowned Bovetti chocolate factory, where everyone got to make their own chocolate Easter chick - as well as taking advantage of the highly-appealing shop!

On to the nearby village of Villac, where FYC was to give an evening concert in the striking little church of St Vaast.  A full rehearsal in the afternoon proved essential as Jo, Matthew and the choir battled to come to terms with a very tricky acoustic: time well-spent as it turned out, as the sound was spot-on during the performance given to a packed church.  The concert of sacred and secular music included solo performances by Tabitha Chapman, Hannah Larkin, Charlotte Gill and Amélie Budd and the appreciative audience showed its pleasure with a standing ovation - followed almost immediately with a second after the obligatory encore.       

We were made very welcome during our short stay, including a drinks and nibbles reception in the sale des fêtes (village hall) after the concert.  And we all got to meet Sophie’s mum!  The final - and completely unexpected - icing on the cake came as the church elders insisted on giving us the retiring collection, which we graciously accepted. 

An early start as we had a 75-minute journey to Périgueux where the choir gave another short recital in the cathedral.  Again the acoustic was astonishing, with the choir providing an especially magical moment in the climax of Maurice Duruflé’s motet, Tota Pulchra Es.  As we arrived, the church was filled with the glorious sound of an improvisation by the incumbent organist Christian Mouyen.  Impressed by the choir’s performance he invited FYC back to give a full concert and thanked us as we left in the best way possible with another improvisation especially for us.

After lunch by the river at Les Eyzies, it was on to Sarlat again for a shared Concert Spirituel with the local Ensemble Vocale de Sarlat, which finished with a joint performance of César Franck’s Panis angelicus.  Again the audience demanded more and FYC obliged with a repeat performance of Alexander Tilley’s In Flanders’ Fields, following an explanation of the words in French by our host choir’s conductor, Bernard Podevin.

Another short reception and it was back to Salignac for supper, packing and bed.    

A long day’s travel back to Calais almost came unstuck with a long delay in getting round Paris, but we made the (almost empty) 8 o'clock ferry with less than five minutes to spare. It was only when in the ship’s cafeteria that we learned this was in fact the last sailing of the day - something which we were glad we hadn’t known earlier when sitting in a Paris traffic jam! Just another piece of the jigsaw falling perfectly into place.    

Finally, a word about our coach and drivers.  As anyone who has been on an FYC tour will confirm, having a good rapport with the driver is essential to make it work well.  We were fortunate to have three great drivers over the six days: in Andy in particular - with us for almost all the time we were in France - we could not have asked for a more amenable and friendly companion who always as flexible as we needed him to be with a programme which almost inevitably required some tweaking each day.  (A Southampton supporter he even came to terms, if grudgingly, with Sophie’s admission that she was a Pompey fan!)       

In what was her first tour as FYC musical director, Jo was full of admiration for what the young singers achieved throughout the week, both individually and collectively.  So, all in all, a very happy tour, one which was successful both musically and socially and in which everyone worked hard and played hard to outstanding effect.

Singing Together: A joint concert with FYC Junior Choirs and Taplow Children's Choirs

Photographer: Jeremy Smith

Photographer: Jeremy Smith

On Saturday 25th March, both FYC Junior Choirs and the Training Choir joined with Taplow Children’s Choir to provide a wonderful evening of singing at St Andrews Church.

The choirs first came together last year when FYC Junior Boys and Girls choirs travelled to Taplow and this time the invitation was returned and family and friends of all choirs packed the Church.

The repertoire was the usual mix of styles that we have come to expect from FYC concerts including traditional folk songs from across the globe and gave each choir the chance to sing alone and to showcase their joint pieces.

The concert started with a first outing of their rendition of Cantate Domino by the FYC Boys and Girls Junior Choirs followed by a trilogy of Benjamin Britten songs.

Then the Girls choir sang three accomplished pieces -Bon Di and I Dance to the Stars and the Moon around their debut performance of The Bird’s Lament by Richard Rodney Bennett.

Rugby followed and was the humorous offering from the Junior Boys with actions to match, followed by Hine Ma Tov to which there was notable toe tapping from the audience!

We were then treated to all choirs coming together - after a magnificent feat of stage management to get everyone in place.  Two rousing pieces filled the church with over 100 voices perfectly in time and you would not have guessed that they had only had a few hours’ rehearsal together - a tribute to the work of the conductors as well as the singers.  The choirs began with Kusimara by Jim Papulis- with enthusiastic drum accompaniment from the Taplow Conductor Lucy Joy Morris -followed by the moving Hashivenu - an Israeli folk song.

FYC trainers clearly enjoyed their chance to perform in front of family and friends.  They sang and marched through The Zulu Warrior, and their ecological version of 10 Green Bottles was not quite the one we may have remembered from childhood car journeys but all the better for its modern twist.  Add to these a Canadian song - the Land of the Silver Birch -and The Lighthouse and their quartet of songs were complete.  The smiles said it all!

Taplow Children’s Choir then took to the stage to provide a lively set of four songs.  The uplifting Marvellous Song was followed by Ken Johnston’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley.  We were then treated to a well-choreographed duet of songs - Bye Bye Robin and Engine Engine - arranged by FYC’s Jo McNally.

The evening was finished by bringing everyone back together again to sign the Ghanaian playground song Sansa Kroma, that was a fitting end to a delightful evening that more than lived up to its name of Singing Together.  We were treated to a high standard of choral singing by two talented and dedicated choir families.

Reviewer: Lynn Marlow

Farnham Festival ends with a fanfare

Photographer: Jeremy Smith

Photographer: Jeremy Smith

Down the years, Farnham Festival concerts have been regularly relied upon to provide huge variety, enthusiasm and technical excellence from local young musicians and Wednesday’s closing concert, shared by More House School’s Brass Ensemble and Farnham Youth Choir, decisively carried on the tradition.

From the very first note, the Festival’s emphasis on ‘new music for young people’ was evident as More House’s young brass players launched with great gusto into Sir Malcolm Arnold’s Festival Fanfare, written originally for the very first Farnham Festival back in 1961. This was followed by an atmospheric performance of one of the famous love themes from James Horner’s Braveheart, with Leo Weller the lyrical trumpet soloist, and the set finished with a classic American foot-stomper, Henry Fillmore’s Lassus Tombone, led appropriately and with panache by Henry Hannsen and his fellow trombonists.        

Michael Kamen’s Band of Brothers theme and Puttin’ on the Ritz by Irving Berlin showed the ensemble to good advantage and the church resounded to conductor Craig Burnett’s imaginative arrangement of the final movement of Stravinsky’s ballet, The Firebird.      

Farnham Youth Choir under its director Joanna Tomlinson and accompanist Matthew Rickard immediately pinned our ears back with the punchy rhythms of the traditional spiritual, Joshua, followed by three sacred motets spanning six centuries, each delivered with the choir’s trademark virtues of clarity of diction and rich dynamic range.

FYC’s - and the Festival’s - commitment to new music was reflected in a new Surrey County Council commission, Everyone Sang, by Janet Wheeler. This beautiful setting of words by Siegfried Sassoon was given a truly joyous and flowing performance by the choir - “Everyone’s voice was suddenly uplifted” indeed - and looks set to become an established part of the choir’s repertoire.

The lighter side of the choir’s programming was reflected in characterful performances of songs such as Sweet Georgia Brown and a classy arrangement of Bob Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love with sensitive soloist Caroline Brown. However, none of this had quite prepared us for Paloma Faith’s Upside Down, in a real showstopper of an arrangement by Michael Higgins. And, with vibrant choreography to match, there was no doubt the choir enjoyed it as much as we did!         

Finally, the audience was sent home with two famous tunes ringing in its ears, as FYC and More House School combined to perform what have become unofficial national anthems - Be Still My Soul from Sibelius’ Finlandia and I Vow to Thee My Country from Holst’s suite, The Planets - conducted with typical vigour and feeling by Craig Burnett. 

Reviewer: Graham Noakes